Retirement planning is extremely challenging because we don’t know exactly when it is going to occur or how long we will be in retirement.
Even defining retirement can be a challenge.
For some people, retirement is when they stop working for good. For others, it’s more of a mindset shift, a career change or a period where they don’t have to work to meet their financial needs.
Most people only get one shot at planning and experiencing retirement—the latter often starting in our 60s. However, other areas of life can offer lessons about what makes a financially free and successful retirement.
For one, we can observe what retirement looked like an earlier age from professional athletes. I recently interviewed a number of former and retired NFL players to gain insight into what the NFL and their experiences taught them about retirement planning.
Marques Ogden: You’re Never Too Young to Retire
Let’s start with a good friend of mine and former NFL offensive tackle Marques Ogden. Marques played for six years in the NFL and was to this date the only offensive lineman drafted out of Howard University.
“The single biggest lesson I learned about retirement from the NFL is that you’re never too young to retire,” Ogden told me. “Your career in football can be over in a blink of an eye. Playing in the league I learned that for any player – no matter how good – the next play could be your last.”
This is true for everyone; you could be forced into retirement due to company cuts or your health.
Ogden noted that he learned about preparing for retirement from other players, like Hall of Fame player Ed Reed.
“I learned about being prepared and ready at all times for an early retirement. One guy I learned a lot from – other than my brother – was Ed Reed,” Ogden said. “Ed Reed was really great at living below his means, he wasn’t flashy or out partying – he was focused on living a quality life, being the best at his craft, and preparing for the future.”
This is a great lesson about being sure to save when you can, enjoying life, but also making sure we are setting aside funds for our future self in retirement. If we don’t do that, no one else is going to save for us.”
Mike Hollis: Think Ahead About a Post-Retirement Career
Mike Hollis, a nine-year NFL kicker, said he learned a lot about preparing for the future and overcoming adversity in the NFL.
“The average span of an NFL athlete’s career is only about three years,” Hollis said. “So being realistic with the statistics is important for anyone – including an NFL athlete who must think ahead about a post-retirement career.”
Hollis’ career was cut short because of an injury, and he was forced into retirement after nine years of playing.
“I was not prepared for mentally, because I loved the game,” Hollis said. “However, because I was realistic in my post-football career preparation, I was able to quickly get involved in industries I had thought about and planned for during my playing years. This is what ultimately led me to the opening of my own kicking instructional business after dabbling with other business opportunities during the first three years after officially retiring. Mike Hollis’ ProForm Kicking Academy is now on the doorstep of 18 successful years in business!”
Hollis was able to take his mindset and transform it into a post-NFL career and rewire the way he approached his career. Many Americans also need to find ways to continue to work in retirement to find both meaning in life and support their finances.
David Carter: Learn How to Make New Money While You Still Have Your NFL Money
Adjusting to life after retirement and change are never easy. But losing the thing that you love – that’s even harder. For David Carter, a former NFL lineman, the adjustment to life after the NFL wasn’t easy.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and it was no one’s fault but mine,” Carter said. “Transitioning to a normal life after the league is hard – a normal job, making less money, rebuilding your confidence to start something new. Word to the wise – start learning how to make new money while you have your NFL money and the influence of the team around you…it’s easier.”
For many people, adjusting to retirement is challenging because the paychecks stop, and you need to reinvent your next phase – both financially and emotionally.
Carter found his passion in health and nutrition.
“While I was in the league, I was 320 pounds and plant based, so I earned the named the ‘300-pound Vegan,’” Carter said. “From there I produced a documentary on Netflix
David Tyree: “Learn the Language of Money to Make Sound Decisions”
From Super Bowl hero to NFL retiree, David Tyree’s journey has been incredible. Tyree’s biggest adjustment to transitioning out of the NFL was about budgeting.
“Mentally, I was prepared for the adjustment. I refinanced my home to reduce payments, and trimmed all the fatty habits in spending,” Tyree said. “We had a loose budget that we worked to tighten up. But there was nothing that could prepare us for the 90% decrease in earnings – going from making over $1 million to $100,000.”
Tyree also noted that education is important to budgeting and the transition to fewer earnings.
“Money is a language similar to any other foreign language,” Tyree said. “We must learn the language of money to make sound decisions. Learning the language will enhance our relationship with money. Everything starts with a budget and determining healthy spending habits to ensure we can maximize the resources to increase wealth.”
Reggie Walker: Understand What You Want Out of Life First
Reggie Walker, a former NFL player of seven years reflected living a life by design and not default.
“The biggest lesson I learned was that I needed to understand what I wanted out of life first, and build a life around it,” Walker said. “Building a life around what other people want for me would always leave me unfulfilled. It seems simple to understand, but it’s not.”
He also noted that you have to align your money with your life and know what’s going on with it.
“You need to know what’s going on with your money,” Walker said. “If you don’t understand the terminology or the system itself, you need to find a way to become educated on the subject. YOU have to help you.”
Apply These Lessons to Your Life
While retirement is different for everyone, so many core tenants can apply to our situations and lives.
Start with defining what life you want to live. Next, set a budget and know what you are spending money on and where you can cut back if your income drops in retirement. Then, learn about money and retirement income planning, which is its own complex area that encompasses tax laws, investments and strategies.
You also have to find enjoyment and prepare mentally for retirement. As you leave the workforce, examine what else is going to fill in your time and provide meaning.
Lastly, remember that you need to prepare for the unknown. Perhaps it is a forced retirement or a longer than expected retirement. Life is uncertain, and in retirement planning, we need to plan for the certainty of today while keeping an eye out for the uncertainty of tomorrow.